Image courtesy of First Watch Games

Rogue Company is a fun, competitive, and accessible shooter that’s crossplay across all major platforms

Jimmy Thang |
May 5, 2021

First Watch Games is a game development studio under the Hi-Rez Studios banner, consisting of senior developers from Hi-Rez Studios, Blizzard, Daybreak, Electronic Arts, Vicarious Vision, and more. This team of veteran developers has banded together to make the next best multiplayer shooter, Rogue Company. First Watch Games and Hi-Rez Studios believe that gamers should be able to play with their friends, regardless of platform. Along with making a great shooter, the studio is dedicated to implementing crossplay to bring the community together.
Rogue Company is the first title from First Watch Games, a new division of Hi-Rez Studios, which released popular hits like Smite, Paladins, and Realm Royale. The 4V4 third-person shooter is free-to-play, features objective-based game modes, and pushes crossplay across Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC via the Epic Games Store. Rogue Company’s ability to be fun and accessible, yet competitive has made it a fan favorite with sites like Finger Guns writing, “Free-to-play it may be, but Rogue Company is a high-quality title that’s among the best shooters I’ve played this year and a welcome alternative to the more standard shooters you find on console.”

To gain insight into how the studio developed Rogue Company, we interviewed several members of First Watch Games and Hi-Rez Studios. They share how they design the game’s levels to encourage smart tactical play, how they create and balance characters, how they optimized the game to run well across a variety of platforms, and provide tips on how to incorporate a player-driven games-as-a-service foundation.
 

Considering First Watch Games is a new studio under Hi-Rez, can you tell us about Rogue Company's new development team and elaborate on how that relationship works? 

First Watch Games Brand Director Bart Koenigsberg:
Rogue Company is our first major title on Unreal Engine 4; so, we built out a new studio under Hi-Rez to push our technology and content development expertise into UE4. Also under the Hi-Rez umbrella with First Watch are the Titan Forge (SMITE) and Evil Mojo (Paladins & Realm Royale) game teams

The studio has described Rogue Company as Mission Impossible and The Fast and the Furious meets Gears of War and Call of Duty. Can you elaborate on the game's inspirations? 

Koenigsberg:
Rogue Company started with a simple idea: let's make a game that blends tactical and action shooters. With that direction, we built a third-person action shooter with big personalities and a global scope but anchored it in the near future. Our goal was and is to build an experience that is like playing a summer blockbuster.
Image courtesy of First Watch Games
First Watch Games has former Halo world champion Scott Lussier as a lead designer. How has that helped shape the development of Rogue Company?

First Watch Games VP of Gameplay Mick Larkins:
Having come from the competitive console scene, Scott emphasized early on that Rogue Company plays just as amazingly on a console controller as it does on a keyboard and mouse setup. He directed his focus on mechanics that matter to high-level play, which shaped a design built for great player-versus-player gameplay.

Why did it make sense for Rogue Company to be a third-person 4V4-focused game?

First Watch Games Lead Designer Scott Lussier:
Throughout development, we experimented with a variety of team sizes. After many months of deliberation, we decided to move forward with 4V4. The decision can be boiled down to a simple but difficult question, “What team size creates the best experience for our game?” What we enjoyed the most about 4V4 was the ability for our playtesters to always have an idea where the enemy was or where to expect an enemy. The more players we added, the more chaotic the battlefield got.
Image courtesy of First Watch Games
There are numerous characters, all with different abilities and upgradeable perks that allow players to do things such as drop down barricades, reveal enemy locations, and more. How did you approach designing and balancing characters? 

Lussier:
When it comes to creating a character, we start by establishing the Rogue's gameplay identity. Are they a defender? A duelist? Or maybe they're a sniper. Once the role is established, we begin building the character's backstory, personality, narrative, and identifying what makes them unique to our game. Once the Rogue's pillars have been established, the design team gets to work! When it comes to balancing Rogues, all abilities are balanced around the fact they'll be used at least once per round in our one-life game modes.

Rogue Company has several objective-based multiplayer modes, including a unique one called Strike Out, which provides two opposing teams a number of finite respawns that can be dwindled over time with one team controlling a single point on the map. What was your approach to designing the game's different multiplayer modes?

Lussier:
When it comes to creating core game modes, such as Strike Out, we have to make sure that each Rogue has a purpose, there's a clear objective, and the item shop is always used. Strike Out started out as our version of team deathmatch with an objective. As time progressed, Strike Out became more objective-focused and a little more methodical in nature.
Image courtesy of First Watch Games
Rogue Company has interesting and relatively compact levels that often offer a lot of verticality and cover. Can you talk about your approach to map design?

First Watch Games Level Designer Joey Simas:
When designing maps for Rogue Company, we pursue an exciting balance of action-packed moments and tactical decision making. As a third-person shooter, we try to encourage movement by giving players a lot of space and choices to make in any given situation through the placement of cover and the map's overall layout. At the same time, we want to keep combat spaces simple enough that you have a good idea where an enemy might come from with a bit of map knowledge. For every power position, there is usually a counter position that you can push up to and get the drop on an enemy. This sort of push and pull to combat helps create exciting engagements for our players. Beyond cover and layout, we try to find fun gameplay hooks and unique locations that will bring something new to the game with every map release. 

The gunplay has been praised for being snappy and responsive. How did you nail the execution here?

Lussier:
From day one of development, we knew gunplay was king, meaning Rogue abilities are designed to complement and/or augment our core gameplay. By making this decision, we took on the challenge of delivering a world-class third-person shooting experience. Third-person shooters tend to have a large amount of reticle bloom and lower amounts of vertical recoil compared to first-person shooters coupled with minimal camera shake. We wanted to challenge the industry norm by simulating the first-person weapon feel in a third-person game. This meant our guns needed to have more recoil, recover from kick quicker, punchy camera shake, and could be mastered by our players.
Image courtesy of First Watch Games
The game has been praised for being accessible to new players with a heavier emphasis on positioning rather than just pure aiming dexterity coupled with the fact that teammates can revive each other and dodge-roll out of sticky situations. Can you talk about the significance of these elements? 

Lussier:
One of our design pillars is mitigating the frustrations that can be caused by a third-person perspective. We know that players have access to a significant amount of information on the battlefield, so we design around that. The slightly longer time-to-down an opponent, the innate ability to dodge roll to and from cover, health regeneration, and the chance to revive your teammates all helped alleviate those pain points.
 
We feel that one of the largest motivators for sticking with a game is playing with your friends."
- Trevor Williams, Hi-Rez Publishing Vice President of Business Development

Rogue Company features a near-future aesthetic. Can you talk about how you approach crafting the look of the game?

Lussier:
As far as environments go, we put a lot of time into crafting maps and themes within them; we also infuse some undertone narratives into each map. Some of that may not come across as of yet, but on our end, behind the scenes, we do have reasons for why Rogue Company may be in a particular place doing a mission. Some of that includes a shady network pulling strings behind the scenes, and a lot more of that will become clearer as we continue to build and direct the narrative going forward. A lot of concept work goes into the pre-planning stages of a map, providing a clear path for the environment team to work with.
Image courtesy of First Watch Games
Considering most of Hi-Rez’s past games have used Unreal Engine 3, what made Unreal Engine 4 a good fit for Rogue Company?

Larkins:
Epic and Unreal Engine have been great partners of Hi-Rez for the last 15 years. Unreal Engine has always been a leader for rendering, core game architecture, production workflow, support, and many other critical factors needed to make compelling games that work across multiple platforms. Over the years, we've extended the engine in ways that helped us make great online games as a service. Unreal Engine is constantly evolving to include new, powerful solutions, which allows us to remain focused on making awesome games.

Engine Technical Director Chris Ranney: We had a previous UE4 title called Hand of the Gods that allowed us to develop processes and technology on UE4 before we started on Rogue Company. This, combined with our previous experience using UE3, allows us to quickly get the ball rolling on UE4 when Rogue Company started development. 

Rogue Company runs well across multiple platforms. How did you keep performance in check?

Ranney:
We have a number of systems for automated monitoring and benchmarking, but those only go so far and are supplemented by additional testing. We tend to focus on making performance great on the least powerful platforms first, then scale things up for more powerful platforms.

Rogue Company is optimized to run at 4K resolution at 120 FPS on Xbox Series X and the studio has said it plans to add ray tracing down the road. What excites you most about developing for next-gen platforms?

Ranney:
We already had a game that we knew performed great at 4K on Xbox One X, and for the most part, the power jump for next-gen was able to carry us to 120 FPS without major modifications. The 60 FPS mode currently has power to spare and gives us leeway to add newer, more performance-heavy features down the road such as ray tracing.
Image courtesy of First Watch Games
Hi-Rez has been a pioneer of the games-as-a-service (GAAS) model. Are there any key lessons the company has learned that they can share with the rest of the development community?

Hi-Rez Publishing Vice President of Business Development Trevor Williams:
Throughout our history of running GAAS, we have learned that monetization is driven by other factors and not necessarily from the actual act of a player spending money. We work on two factors to drive monetization: retention and engagement. What we have found is by increasing playtime (sessions/engagement) as well as the frequency (returning/retention), we increase monetization. These increases typically come from outer game loops or new limited-time modes. Continuous loops like daily login rewards, or daily/weekly quests help to extend game time and increase the frequency people play the game. The goal is to ensure that the experience is fun and engaging for the player at all times, which is why we also champion things like cross-play and cross-progression. We feel that one of the largest motivators for sticking with a game is playing with your friends. Whether it’s making new ones within the game or bringing other friends from other games; getting people to play as groups increases both mechanics significantly.

Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about Rogue Company?

Lussier:
Visit www.roguecompany.com for more information on updates, Rogues, and more! Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Discord for the most up-to-date information!

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